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Book Report: Memory

So, back on my Lois McMaster Bujold kick, I reread Memory, which has become probably my very favorite of the books, or at least my favorite to reread. And I am struck, again, by just how baroque the plot is, particularly when viewed from the front, rather than as we discover it, viewed from the back.

There are this capsules that are designed to do nothing else but to destroy the chip in Simon’s head. Hardly anybody knows about them, except the villain and Simon, but when the chip is destroyed, Simon goes down, so that’s all right. We don’t question the existence of the capsules, which are the creation of two sets of baddies from previous books, nor do we question Simon having authorized keeping the capsules, because they are kept in the super-security secret weapons vault with all the other plot points.

The villain sets up the attack thusly: (a) make it look like the chip self-destructed so no-one even investigates it as an attack, (2) set up an elaborate frame in advance just in case somebody investigates it as an attack, (iii) when the frame fails, set up a different frame for the frame job, while subtly bribing the investigator. While this makes an excellent book (it really does, I am not in any way complaining about the book on this account) it makes very little sense as a villainous attack on Simon, who is after all Head of Imperial Security, by his second-in-command. I mean, even given that Simon is assumed to have near super-human powers, there has got to be a straighter line between the crime and the profit.

All of which made me wonder if I should be thinking of baroque conspiracy theories as a genre convention, like talking dragons, wormhole travel or Galactic Standard speech. Or True Love. Or the Noble Savage. You know? There’s a certain kind of book that just has to have an overcomplicated conspiracy theory of the kind that nobody ever would even contemplate in real life, or the book is no good.

William Goldman, in one of his books on film-making, illustrates a similar point by talking about a plan to break into the castle and reach the princess. If you were in a movie, you would gather a group of, oh, five or six specialists: a disguise master, a security expert, a martial arts guy, an insider with the codes, and somebody with a totally ridiculous specialty like imitating bird noises or feigning death. And you would plan the thing out, time it to the second, rehearse it over and over, make contingency plans upon contingency plans, and, well, you would have a movie. But here’s the thing: in real life, nobody has ever broken into the castle and reached the princess like that. Not ever. People who want to break into the castle and reach the princess either study the thing and make plans and then give the fuck up because it can’t be done, or they are crazy people and they just walk in, because half the alarms are broken and half the guards aren’t where they are supposed to be.

Digression: In the incredibly disappointing National Treasure II, the highly successful treasure hunter and his girlfriend, the head curator of National Archives, make an appointment with the curator of Windsor Castle and then get themselves put in the Palace lockdown in order to exploit a security hole caused by their geeky sidekick so that they can examine the Resolute desk. Why not just ask the curator if they can examine the desk? I mean, these are both big machers in the curatorial field; it’s almost unbelievable that the girlfriend wouldn’t be acquainted with the Windsor curator anyway. Then, just to give me more to complain about, they do a sort of break-in at the Oval Office which is much less entertaining, rather than, you know, telling anybody they want to do some research in their field. This is before they go on the lam, of course—evidently the head curator of artifacts at the White House, who the girlfriend necks with while Our Hero examines the desk, is not in contact with his colleague in England, and there isn’t any communication between people in that field where anyone would have heard about any security incidents elsewhere. Oh, and the head curator of the National Archives has never been in the Oval Office before, and the head White House curator tells her the story of the Resolute desk like she was in high school. Seriously. There is maybe one scene in the movie where the character seems to know anything at all about American History, documents, or the archives/curator business. Incredibly irritating. And I never figured out how the discovery of the City of Gold underneath Mount Rushmore proved that guy wasn’t involved in the Lincoln assassination—I mean, has no conspirator ever double-crossed his buddies for the loot? But I digress.

Where was I? Did I have a point?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Yes, you did. You were saying "should you be thinking about baroque conspiracy theories as a genre convention?" I would say, "yes, probably," but I remain curious as to your answer.


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